The Stories in Our Stuff

This is a story of clutter and confusion, a brain muddled by too much stuff.

Inside a pocket sits a story, a place where a child’s toy once rested, a spot for a special gift given to a special someone. Shoes tell stories of trips to malls, journeys to other countries, trips down a hospital corridor, runs on a sandy beach.

Our stuff is our story. Objects turned to fragments of our lives. Inside a book once read, now soaked with tears. Barrettes worn by a little girl. Bracelets given by loved ones no longer on earth.

I once owned a lot of stuff, which held a lot of stories. Closets and cabinets overflowed with items I didn’t need. But after my brain injury, I could no longer comprehend what everything in my home was for, and clutter became nothing more than a source of tension for me. Piece by piece I let go, books, papers, a pile of material, though at the time, I didn’t understand why, or what I was doing.

A few years later, my husband and I moved. I looked around our new home and all we owned, and decided, more than anything, I wanted a life of less. I began to purge.

Even then, I didn’t understand the true impact of my actions. With each item placed in a box or bag, emotions overwhelmed me. I cried, shedding tears for a vase bought on vacation, dresses worn to weddings, tiny paper ornaments created by children now grown.

My stuff was being given away bit by bit, my life, my stories, my memories.

Memories are hard for me, holding pain and grief, and most of all, loss. After my injury, I lost many memories, falling from some obscure slit in my brain. I have worked hard to try and get them back. That day, as I placed items in a bag, I was scared. What if I lost these memories, just as I’d lost the others?

But that’s not what happened.

When I released bags and boxes from my life, needless to say, my physical world changed. My home was cleaner. But what happened next was unexpected. I experienced a clarity I hadn’t had in a long time. A freedom came over me. I could think. Reminisce. Remember. Recall. Images appeared, remnants of a life I thought I’d forgotten. Doctors’ visits, a son’s far-away move, another child’s career change. Memories I didn’t know I had.

My brain had been cluttered by all I owned. When I let go of clutter, it let go of me.

I don’t have all my memories back, and probably never will. But I have more than I once had, more than I could hope for.

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Enjoy the Now

Sometimes a day trip is all that’s needed to remind me what life is about.

Sunday morning, the sun rose high in the sky, grass glittered like tiny wet diamonds, little buds burst from trees, and daffodils spread their yellow cheer. My husband and I packed a lunch and set out on our first day trip of the year. No plan. No calendar. No list. No reminders of what needed to be done.

It was a badly needed day away, one that hadn’t been planned. Sad to say, that’s how my life usually is – one plan followed by another. I plan everything – vacations, meals, career ambitions, errands, home improvements – my calendar is a list of goals for this year, and even years beyond. It’s safe to say my life often feels like one big planning session.

I like plans, the anticipation, the wonderment, thinking about the next big adventure. I love dreaming about what’s to come. But sometimes when I plan, I forget to enjoy where I am.

The road trip reminded me.

Grass bowed as we sped the rural highway. Tall evergreens stood majestic against a background of a snow-capped mountain. My husband and I spoke of many things, enjoyed the scenery, the parks, the life around us. Nothing existed but the moment we were in. I had forgotten what that was like.

It is true, plans need to be made. We’d never go on vacations if we didn’t think ahead. Careers would fail. Family would get neglected. But sometimes, it seems as if we are so busy thinking of the future, we forget about the life in front of us.

Believe me, I’m as guilty as anyone. I plan next week’s meals while eating dinner, think about vacations while watching a documentary. I’m half here, half someplace else. Distracted, always looking forward.

The road trip reminded me what I knew all along. That to truly enjoy life, we must stop and enjoy the moment.

It got me wondering, what if we didn’t wait for a road trip? What if we stopped every day to enjoy the now? What would happen?

The world wouldn’t end, I guarantee it. But maybe it would change.

We could make our own little worlds calmer, quieter, full of what really matters. I want my life to feel that way.

So, as silly as it sounds, I’m making a plan to not plan. My calendar now contains three little words, “Enjoy the now.” It is my reminder to take time each day to remember where I am. Because in this crazy-busy society, sometimes we need to plan for the quiet.

It won’t be easy. I’m always thinking ahead. Most of us are. But I don’t want the road trip to be the only reminder that life is right here in front of me. Right now.

Life is in front of you, too. In the friend on the phone, the spouse next to you, the child in your arms. It’s in your dishes, your work-out routine, and the meal you prepare.

I encourage you, stop constantly thinking ahead. Enjoy where you are at.

Enjoy the Now

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Secrets to a Clutter-Free Home

You’ve scrutinized every drawer, sifted through every piece of clothing, and yet, that clutter you worked so hard to get rid of keeps coming back. Is there a way to stop it once and for all? Yes, and no.

Clutter will always enter our lives. Through mail and little one’s artwork, through gifts given, through life itself. Clutter is part of life. But don’t you wonder if there isn’t a way to maintain a clutter-free home? I’m here to tell you, there is.


The World Before This One

I lived a different life before I moved to the Pacific Northwest. In Minnesota, with my husband and two boys, our home was a constant source of activity. I don’t think there was a single sport one of our kids didn’t try, all the way through their high school years. When they were young, I’d drive home after work, pop food in the oven, and run to whatever activity was going on that night.

A few years later, I quit my desk job to start a daycare in our home. Six children, Monday through Friday, ten in the summer. It was hectic, to say the least.

Four years after that, I began homeschooling while working two or three part-time jobs, and managing a house. (No need to say it, yes, I know I was crazy.)

My oldest son attended private school during his high school years, and our youngest remained homeschooled. They had many friends, and when the weekend arrived, you could usually find six of their friends hanging out in our 1500 square foot home (yup, eight teenage boys all weekend long. Some of the best memories of my life.)

In all those years, with all those activities, constant commotion, tons of sport equipment, job projects (did I mention I worked at home?), daycare necessities, and the requirements of life, you would think our house would have been a disaster. But it wasn’t. In fact, parents often told me how neat and tidy our home was.

“What’s your secret?” they’d ask.

“I’ll never tell,” I’d say with a smile.

It really wasn’t much of a secret. I’d always been a bit on the minimalist side (completely opposite my guy), quite a neat-freak (again, opposite of a few people – I won’t say who this time, Honey), and loved cleaning (yes, I know, weirdo).

Still, with all that stuff going on in one home, it was a lot to keep the clutter from taking over our lives. Somehow, with a few little tricks up my sleeve, I managed. Below are my secrets to a clutter-free home.


Steps to Controlling Clutter Before It Controls You
Number One:
Keep ‘Stuff” In Designated Spots.

Daycare requires a lot of ‘stuff.’ Papers, crayons, markers, paints. Beads and strings, glues and tiny scissors. In boxes, marked, kept in one spot. The trick here isn’t just keeping it tidy, it’s about controlling buying habits. I love craft stores, and could have bought more than I ever did, but I had to learn self-discipline, and buy only what I knew we would use.

Even when buying toys for the munchkins in my daycare, I needed discipline. I bought basics – blocks, building toys, rattles for the babies, books and music. No more than necessary. You know what? They never got bored. The most important part of having toys is putting them away after playtime. I told them it was a game – they loved it, which made my job easier.

Homeschooling also requires a lot– books, paper, games, crafts, and science projects. Seriously, I could have purchased a truckload. But I didn’t. After all, one can only use so much. Again, everything was kept in one place.

Our home had a designated place for shoes and coats. Whether just our sons coming through the door, or their friends following them, everyone was expected to use that spot.

Number Two:
Keep a Designated Place for Items to be Given Away.

Keep a bag or box handy for thrift store donations. (It seems there is always something to get rid of.) Place it by the back door, or in an accessible and visible spot in the garage – somewhere you can quickly grab it and bring it to your local charity. Mine is in my coat closet. I see it every time I grab my shoes or jacket. It’s a great reminder to let go.

Have a handy place for items you are giving to friends and family. I use a closet shelf for this. Whether you have outgrown children’s clothes you are saving for a friend, or books and movies for the library, put it a spot you can’t miss.

Number Three:
Be a Tosser.

Get rid of garbage. Ever open a cabinet and see outdated medications, or sit down in your office to a pile of papers? When you know something is trash, toss it immediately.

That goes for mail as well. And packages. As soon as they arrive, take care of them. Open the mail, recycle the junk, put away the important stuff.

Toss extras from take-out, like those ten ketchup packages and napkins. (Will you ever really use them?) Toss old drawings from your children. (You can’t keep everything, plus, trust me, they will never know.) You can even toss those old little Happy-meal type items that sit in the corner of a closet.

Number Four:
Purchase Only What You Need.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever bought extra because it was on sale. Guilty! Two summers ago, I was shopping the outlet mall for a new pair of shorts. I hardly ever wear shorts, so I only needed one pair. Yet, when I walked into one of my favorite stores, there was a deal going on I couldn’t resist. Yup, a two-for-one sale. I bought a second pair, even though I didn’t really like them. And there they sat in my drawer till I gave them away. Buy only what you need, even if the deal is amazing.

This goes for everything, from toiletries to food. It’s so easy to purchase more than we need, because it looks like an amazing deal. But guess what, there will always be a deal, somewhere. I guarantee it. (It’s a trick retailers use to get us to buy, always making us think there will never be another special on that item. Don’t fall for it!)

Number Five:
Put it away!

Grab shoes and laundry that are sitting on that bottom step, and bring it upstairs with you. Hang up jackets when you get home (and teach children to do the same – install hooks at a lower level if you need to). Drop your purse, wallet, etc., in their designated places.

That goes for everything. Fold clothes and put them away immediately. Put groceries in cabinets as soon as you get through the door. Make children put their things in their rooms.

Number Six:
Stop the Unnecessary Gifts.

This is tough. People love to show affection by giving. I know I do. Giving is great, only it’s easy to end up with too much stuff. Ask anyone with children.

I wrestle with this myself. I want to give, but I don’t want our children and their families to be overwhelmed with too much ‘stuff.’ I also want to be a good receiver, but how do you tell someone to not buy anything for you?

Lucky for my husband and me, our family has figured out how much we’ve minimalized, and how little we want or need. In the last few years, they’ve given us some amazing gifts – wine, food, hot sauce making kit, slippers, and a gift certificate to a restaurant.

Be honest when someone asks what you want for your birthday, or any occasion. Let them buy something that you truly desire. And do the same for them.

Number Seven:
Use Your Time Wisely.

The biggest secret of staying clutter-free is efficiency. We all have a few extra minutes in our day, whether we think so or not. (Granted, if you ask me, extra minutes should be used for prayer and just breathing, reading a good book, or strolling through a park. But sometimes that’s not possible, and sometimes it really is only a minute or two that we can spare.) While you’re waiting for a tea kettle to boil, or for a child or spouse to come out to the car, something can get cleaned out. Go through a drawer, your purse or wallet, toss old condiments from the fridge, throw those old insurance papers sitting in the glove compartment.

If anything needs extra minutes, it’s the kitchen, the most used room in the house. This is the one room you never want to get out-of-control, and the room that always does. It’s the catch-all for everything from our own work to our children’s, sports equipment, jackets, boots, and mail.

Keep designated spots for all items, baskets and hooks for each family member. Keep paperwork in a different room. No matter what you do, the kitchen will get messy. It’s where we eat, laugh, and create. And truth is, as tidy as I am, I can make a mess as well as anyone else. But I’ve learned a few things to keep my kitchen clean: Wipe-up as you go. Rinse utensils and bowls, and place them in the dishwasher immediately. Wash counters as soon as you spill. Clean pans right away.

There you go, my secrets to a clutter-free house. It’s a lot of information, I know. But it doesn’t all need to be done at once. Life is a journey. One step at a time. Besides, no matter what we do, how hard we try, life will always be messy and a little clutter-y. I know mine is. I kind of like it that way.

Enjoy life!

I would love to hear your secrets for keeping a clutter-free home.

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Learning to Let Go

I have too many ideas in my head. It’s true. They never stop bombarding me. Usually, they arrive at the most inconvenient times. Like when I’m driving. Or showering. Or standing in line at the supermarket. It’s in those moments I get big ideas, and I can’t do a single thing about them. Because apparently, it’s illegal to write and drive at the same time, and showering while writing doesn’t work well, either. As for being at the supermarket, or anywhere there’s a crowd, take it from me when I say people don’t like it when you pull out your phone, or tablet and pen, and start taking notes while they’re talking. They get paranoid.

I know, some people would kill to have too many ideas. But I’m telling you, it’s not always that great. Believe me, the grass isn’t greener in my head than yours. I would love a brain that silences itself, if only for a moment.

My brain nudges me as I drift to sleep, or if I dare wake in the wee hours of the morning, it starts chattering. It begs me to listen while I watch a movie, and invents stories while I try to read. It never shuts off.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the many ideas – I will always have something to write about. But the problem is, it’s impossible to write everything down. I’ve tried. My fingers just don’t write as fast as I think.

I used to get upset when ideas and ramblings popped into my brain, and I couldn’t jot them down. I’d try and keep the words until later, only I’d usually forget. I’d fret, moan, and be a stressed-out mess, certain I would use up all my creativity. I used to feel like I would fail.

I couldn’t think with all those thoughts running around, wondering what I should remember, and what I should let go. And when I sat down to write, it got worse. If you could get inside my head (and believe me, you don’t want to), I’m pretty certain it would look like a carnival gone amuck.

I started getting panicky, and knew I needed a plan. I thought of buying a recorder for the car, extra notebooks to place by the bed, and one of those waterproof shower pads to write on. But none of them interested me. They seemed more of a hassle than they were worth, and not really a part of that simple lifestyle I desired.

One day I was driving in my car, and sentences filled my head. I wanted those words to remain, I wanted to use them one day in a future story. And then it hit me. Yes, I had an epiphany.

I came up with this brilliant plan for all those random thoughts. And let me tell you, it’s been a life-changer.

Do you want to hear it? Do you want to change your life forever? Listen close. This is my secret when I can’t write my ideas down.

I let them go. I do nothing.

You read that right. Absolutely Nothing. Do you know why? I’ll tell you, but just to warn you, you may not like it. Because, and this is big, it Just Doesn’t Matter.

It’s true. It doesn’t. Because the fact is, we can never run out of ideas. Our brains are a constant source of energy, always creating, forever thinking. Whether we are receptive to listen or not, that part is up to us. But we can never stop creating. I truly believe that. No matter what our gift is – writing, selling, painting, or one of a million other things – our creative resources can never be depleted.

Sure, some ideas enter at the most inopportune times (I think it’s some weird law that says they must), but still, they come. They always do.

And when they do, let them. Let them sit and stew and make a fuss. But don’t let them consume you. If you are meant to have them, they will stay. If not, another will arrive another day, and chances are, it will be even better.

We can’t hang on to everything, whether physical ‘stuff,’ or mental thoughts, we need to release. When we do, the most amazing thing happens. It happened to me.

I am calmer now, and more importantly, I am in the moment. When I write, I think about what I am writing. While I drive, I see the cars around me. And when I shower (and this is the best), I enjoy the hot water that rushes over my face.

It’s not to say that thoughts don’t still flit through my head at the worst times ever. I am human, after all. But I am learning to let go.

I dare you to try this plan, to be where you when you are there. I dare you to let ideas flit away, just like the tiny creative butterflies they are. I guarantee they will come back. And if not, there will be more to take their place.

Live the simple life.

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